A-Loft to Remember

My friend opens the cabinets above his stove. 

“They’re empty!” I am amazed and impressed.

“They say you move into whatever space you have,” he says. “But I’m trying not to do that.”

My friend Josh has been living at A-Mill Artists Lofts on St. Anthony Main for almost three months now. From his kitchen window, light sparkles on the Mississippi River. I can see the Guthrie, the Stone Arch Bridge, and the passersby on St. Anthony Main; if you like people-watching, this is the place to be.

Not only is Josh’s apartment not cluttered; it is decorated with care. He didn’t do it all on his own; his mom flew in from Arizona to assist. Some of the suggestions she made give the place a completely different feel from how Josh had originally arranged it. “My mom suggested putting the TV in the cabinet,” he says, pointing to a large blue cabinet in the living room. His mom’s “amateur designer” friend also came over to join in the fun — and perhaps check out the amazing view.

“My mom’s friend suggested putting the tall lamp on the armoire,” he tells me, pointing to a lamp that in no way looks out of place. “Since the ceilings are so high, it draws your eye up.” Brilliant. A tall potted plant also sits atop a small table.

Said friend is also behind the cluster of six artfully-placed paintings that hang above the couch.

“Where did you get all of your artwork?” I ask Josh. Though we’ve lived in our loft for over two years, my husband and I still have more than ample blank wall-space.

Josh explained that when he was living in New York, he decided that he wanted “real art,” as opposed to the usual posters and reprints. He looked online for young artists and found them in places like Connecticut and Texas. This work hangs alongside a canvas from Ghana that he had for 12 years before he finally framed it. Framed art is a priority for Josh; makes sense for an artist living in the artists’ lofts.

“There’s just more creative energy here,” Josh explains, when I ask him what he likes best about his new place. “I was living in a dark first-floor apartment. This is the highest up I’ve ever lived.” The high ceilings also add to the spaciousness of it all. Although he spends much of his time in rehearsals at theaters and elsewhere, he conducts a lot of work at home. And his new home is lending itself to added creativity.

I can see why. Not only is his eighth-floor apartment itself an oasis of funkily-decorated old and new, but walking around A-Mill is like walking around a college campus made for artists.

Josh takes my husband and me on a tour. Because Josh was allowed to move in in July, the building has still been under construction during his first months as a resident. We don’t see some of the spaces that will be opening in late October: the performance space, the media/sound studios, the culinary kitchen, or the yoga and fitness studios, where there will be on-demand fitness videos. What we do see is the dance studio, on level 2. Josh shows us a convenient port to plug your phone in and dance to your own music.

Next we take the stairs down to level “-2,” which I know truly is underground because of the sandy smell of silt as we descend the stairs to visit the clay studio, the photography studio, the painting/craft room, the “flex” studio — just in case your art hasn’t been covered by any of the previous types of studios — and the private art studio, which is currently reserved for Carolina, as indicated by an orange post-it note on the door.

We take the elevator up to the “Clubroom;” though I half-heartedly insist we should take the steps just for the experience. I’m voted down.

“You used to be able to reserve it,” Josh tells us, “but now it’s just on a first-come first-serve basis.” I can see why. If this clubroom were reservable, it would be booked from now until 2050. People would move here just to be able to host parties in the clubroom! There is a full kitchen, multiple L-shaped sofas, booths, a bar tiled in what I can only describe as backlit dried wheat, trendily mismatched chairs, a fireplace, a pool table…

Josh tells us that there’s a percentage of the the property that couldn’t be changed, since it’s a historic building. He shows us a beam that’s engraved with the words “Team Brady, 1948-1970.”

There is currently no one in the Clubroom. I find this hard to believe. If I lived here, I would be up here having my Saturday morning coffee at the wheatalicious bar. But then again, if I were an artist, maybe I wouldn’t be awake at 10 a.m. on a Saturday. I would probably stay up past 9 p.m. on Sundays too. That must be why the Clubroom hours go until midnight.

Next we walk out onto the rooftop deck, which Josh informs us has a closing time of 10 p.m. due to noise regulations. There’s only one other resident up here, drinking from a thermos of tea and reading a book, ready for early fall in a gray scarf and clogs.

To the left, we can see the Weisman, glittering in the sunlight; to the far right, spires of various Northeast churches. Right in front of us is St. Anthony Falls, the Guthrie, The Vikings stadium, and all of downtown.

“I can run for miles without hitting a stoplight or an intersection,” Josh says as if this is a good thing. Personally, I find it a nice change of pace to stop for a red light, but he says miles, plural with an “s,” so I think he’s a more dedicated of a runner than I am. “Today I was on a path on Nicollet Island, and I ended up in a park. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh; this is beautiful!’”

“That’s our park!” my husband and I exclaim, almost in unison.

“I mean, not ours… the one we go to,” I clarify, trying to play it cool.

Despite the breath-taking view, I’m relieved when we return to Josh’s loft. Now is my chance to ask him pointed questions about the topic that’s really on my mind: organization.

Because I work here, I like to keep everything hidden,” he explains. For example, he opens cabinets off of the kitchen that contain office stuff. “I just don’t like to feel cluttered. If it’s out of sight, it’s a little out of mind.”

However, on his desk, in the corner of the kitchen, he allows what he calls “controlled chaos.” I can see seven piles of papers and a printer on the desk. He uses his high table, centered in front of the window looking out at the river and downtown, as a workspace for his laptop, and then clears the table off when he’s done. Since Josh is a tall guy, his “standing desk” is more like a squatting desk; I guess he’s getting a good quad workout while he catches up on email. We take a break from our interview to look into low-tech solutions to convert a table into a standing desk.

Then we get back to work. Our last and most important topic: stuff.

“I’ve been blessed and cursed to have to move every two years,” Josh says. He tells us about a time he was on a theater tour for nine months, living out of two suitcases. “I got back, and I had a whole other wardrobe,” he explains. “I was like, no way! So now I’m very specific about what I buy. If I don’t use it for nine months, I don’t need it!”

A beautiful sentiment.

His recommendation for people who don’t move as frequently as he does: “Every couple of years, go through your house like you would if you had to move.” It’s better to do it incrementally.

Josh recently used his downsizing skills to return the favor to his mom and dad and help them with their home. “My parents have boxes they haven’t opened in 10 years since they moved!” he says. “I mean, a Student of the Month picture from when I was in fourth grade? Come on. Who’s ever going to look at that again?”

Ouch. He means business. Have you used it in the past five years? Are you ever going to use it?

If the answers are no, “get rid of it,” he says. He didn’t even mention using a scanner.

“I’m kind of a heartless de-clutterer,” Josh says. A useful skill in a friend and in a frequent mover.

Josh tells us that storage lockers are on the lists of amenities that will soon be opened at A-Loft; you can access one by paying a small fee.

“Are you going to get one?” I make the mistake of asking, thinking somewhat superiorly of my own sparse storage locker back at home.

“I don’t need one,” he says, and I nod, thinking in awe of the sink and that empty cabinet above it.

Carissa Jean Tobin lives in a condo in Northeast Minneapolis with her husband. Her hobbies include creating humorous surveys for friends, lounging at the Wilde Roast Café, and scanning old papers in an effort to minimize. She teaches first grade in North Minneapolis.